Kim Burke, a fourth year vet student, is spending her summer researching biomarkers for osteoarthritis in horses.
For those not familiar with biomarkers, these are molecules, genes or characteristics that can be used to identify a disease, condition or biological state. We recently caught up with Kim to find out how her project is going.
You’re researching biomarkers for osteoarthritis in horses at the moment. Could you tell us more about your research?
“My project aims to identify specific small non-coding RNAs (microRNAs) in circulating biofluids as a potential biomarker for osteoarthritis in horses.
“To achieve this, I’ve spent a lot of time in the lab developing methods of extracting the RNAs I am looking for from my samples.
“The sample types I am using – serum and synovial fluid – have particularly low concentrations of these microRNAs within them and so being able to isolate them reliably proved to be a challenge.
“I used RT-qPCR to amplify and measure the expression of the microRNAs, allowing me to compare groups of early and late stage osteoarthritis and detect any that could differentiate between them. This has been a great opportunity to use some of the molecular biology techniques described on my degree course.
“I hope to have completed the lab work in August and I’ll then write up the project in a report and present my research at a conference at the University of Bristol Veterinary School in November.”
Has anything surprised you about the project?
“Being able to research is an important skill for a career within the science industry. Up to this point in my education there has always been evidence available that has helped answer my questions.
“However, for this research topic, published material is limited and this means there are a lot of unknowns. It’s made the project both daunting and exciting. Despite a greater risk of failure, it has meant I could review the breadth of the material describing microRNAs in biofluids and osteoarthritis, thus I have gained a large knowledge base for this specialism over a short period.
“I’m surprised how I’m commonly asked questions on practices related to my project by experienced researchers. It’s proven to me how supportive and collaborative the research community is, as well as how you can become an expert in such a niche subject.”
How did you secure the funding?
“The project is funded by Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) and the STARS award (Strategic Training Awards for Research Skills).
“I applied to the awarding body with my project proposal. When I heard I had been successfully I was really excited. This is a fantastic opportunity to further investigate my third year project.”
If other students are interested in undertaking a studentship like yours, what advice would you give?
“Go for it! It might seem like you will be sacrificing a big chunk of your summer but I have found it to be an extremely rewarding experience. There are so many possibilities within research, don’t be put off by something that you don’t know about if it is something you are interested in. That is the point of research – everyone is always learning.”
What would you like to do after graduation?
“I’m not sure yet. I always thought I would become a large animal vet in practice. However, particularly this year, gaining experience in research and public health sectors has really broadened my horizons showing how versatile a Veterinary Science degree really is. I will continue to explore the wider possibilities available to me after graduation.”
Funding for vet students
If you’re a vet student and you are interested in undertaking a research project during your holidays, there are a number of funding opportunities available via the Wellcome Trust, the University of Liverpool Veterinary Institute and the BBSRC stars scheme, as well as several animal charities.
You can find out more about the funding opportunities via our Research Opportunities webpage.